Cocktails | Conversations, Cheyenne Tylr

I had a girl pass out on the toilet. She was in the bathroom for 30 minutes, and I knew something was wrong. I walk in. She’s pants down. I thought she was dead. I gasped and yelled, waking her up. Coming to, she mumbled, “I didn’t order this,” and passed out again.

Retrograde 10

In Denver, Cheyenne Tylr worked at Retrograde, a bar concealed behind an ice cream parlor in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood, close to the edge of the Five Points district.

Retrograde, as a word, refers to reverse direction, and is commonly used for those who recall memories prior to a period of amnesia. Amnesia is something our culture went through with regards to artisan crafts – until the last decade. In the last ten years or so, we have seen a revival inspired by the past. Retrograde, the bar, takes its guests not only through a walk-in cooler door, but also back in time in two primary respects:

First, Retrograde demonstrates great care towards the elements of what makes a great drink work – looking to the basic building blocks of what made early cocktails’ flavor profiles enjoyable.

Secondly, Retrograde provides an environment that’s reflective of recent history’s vision of the future. The best comparison for the bar’s aesthetics is the work of Ken Adam, who is best known for the set designs of the James Bond films during the ‘60s and ‘70s and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Ken Adam (1921 – 2016) was an Academy Award winning production designer of British-German citizenship. In his teens, he and his family relocated to England shortly after the Nazi party rose to power in Germany. He worked on seven out of the eleven Bond films in the ‘60s and ‘70s, beginning with Dr. No (1962) and finishing with Moonraker (1979).

 Cheyenne Tylr lived in Oceanside CA until 2014, when she made a move to Fort Collins. She entered a period of deep doubt during her early months in Colorado – going through the dissolution of a relationship and bearing a depression, while swimming upstream in her nursing education. “I was in nursing school for a year and a half and hated it,” says Tylr. “I was struggling to even read the books…this [went] on for months. I was working at a cocktail bar, and I remember experiencing a huge relief every time I went to work.”

Tylr called her mom after failing a test, which ended up being the last straw – she’d have to ace the next three tests in order to pass. “I remember saying, I can’t do this. Nurses are amazing – both my mom and dad are nurses. I told her, my mom, that I wasn’t moving forward with nursing.”

Prior to Fort Collins, the only hospitality role she had held was at a Holiday Inn in California. She worked there for three years: two years as a server, six months as a bartender, and the remainder as a bar manager. “The most complicated drink we made was a Mai Tai…the rest were rum & Cokes – not a lot of creativity,” Tylr tells me. “Not until I moved to Colorado did bar-tending grab my attention…that’s when I knew I wanted to pursue this industry.”

Despite the lack of energy at the Holiday Inn, Tylr has this story…

My first night of room service…I was told if someone is not properly clothed, don’t go in – just tell them you will come back. My first [room service experience], the guy opens the door in his underwear. Behind him, on the bed, is a naked woman. I panicked, and had too much to do, so I rolled the cart into the room, averting my eyes, and left. I abandoned the cart – I was supposed to take it.

She also told me about her very first shift at the Holiday Inn…

I was supposed to be there at 6:00am. I woke at 8:00am. I was late on my first day. When I showed up, my trainer wasn’t there – no call, no show. It was Mother’s Day weekend. I had no idea what I was doing, and there was a line out the door.

There were so many comped tabs. I remember crying afterwards, but the shift ended with a high five and a “Hope to see you tomorrow!” In a way, my trainer quitting was my saving grace.

It will never be as bad as that first shift. Whenever I have a rough night, I think about that day for perspective.

Fort Collins is where Tylr initially worked with Cory Leicester. He had returned to Colorado from establishing a speakeasy in Anchorage, Alaska called Blues Central – but it didn’t take long until Cory’s talents were called elsewhere again. “Cory moved back from Alaska and was working with me. Soon, though, he got asked to run a speakeasy in Denver and asked me to come with him, but adding, ‘I need to know within 24 hrs.’ I sat down, thought about it, and told him, ‘Two things: I need a place to stay, and this is how much I can pay for rent.’ He said, ‘I can make that happen.’ He offered that on a Wednesday. I gave my two weeks’ notice on Thursday, and I signed a lease on Saturday.”

Cory Leicester was the beverage director of Retrograde. I reached out to him over e-mail, but received a reply four days later from someone else, “Cory has moved back up to Alaska to start some new adventures.” I previously interviewed him for a Rocky Mountain Food Report entry a year ago.


Cheyenne takes no prisoners. She’s focused and efficient while giving a personalized experience. Preemptively deescalating a situation is one of her natural abilities. Every night behind the bar with Cheyenne was always a good time. She’s a force of nature, and an excellent partner in crime. – John Wilcox, Head Distiller for Blackwater Distillery

I’m talking with Tylr on the rooftop garden of The Ramble Hotel – in the River North Art District of Denver. This is where New York City’s revered and respected Death & Co. established a second location. At the hotel, Tylr tells me her favorite drinks and bars.

To drink, my favorite has always been a Necromancer…it’s absinthe, lemon juice, St. Germain, and Cocchi Americano. You can use Lillet, if you want to – I like Cocchi, though. It’s the first drink that Cory [Leicester] made me.

I like straight spirits. I really love Bulliet Rye – with a few dashes of peach bitters, on the rocks.

I’ve been obsessed with Tiki drinks lately…after I read the book, Smuggler’s Cove. Generally, they’re a little too sweet for me, but the different layers are fun. In [Denver], there are two Tiki bars that I know of, Adrift and Hidden Idol.

There is this bar in London, Evans & Peel Detective Agency. That was an amazing experience. Another place I liked overseas was the Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, originally the brew house for Nottingham Castle…built in 1067.

In New York City, I went to Apothéke – there are no seats at the bar. I like that idea, because it encourages conversation.

Attaboy in Nashville – no menu – it’s bartender’s choice all the time. I don’t remember what I had, exactly, but it had egg whites in it…served in a Collins glass.

In Denver, I always end up at Occidental. Also, I rave about Izakaya Ronin – their sushi: amazing. Star Bar too, it’s an industry bar. You can get any nice cocktail…but you’re comfortable to order a Coors Light and a shot of Kentucky Gentleman too.


Lying is not one of Cheyenne’s skills. On a trip to the Outer Banks, we were told we could join a group of kayaks heading out for a view of the sunset on the ocean. The only catch: we had to create different personas. The guide asked that we show up pretending we were different people entirely. Cheyenne wasn’t capable of even changing her name for the lie. – Ryan Wallace, William Oliver’s Publick House

Tylr describes her mother as her best friend. Her parents divorced when she was eighteen. Her mom had been with her husband for over 20 years. When the marriage ended, she and her daughter were able to discover a new way of relating, on equal ground with transparency – a friendship.

Oceanside is where Tylr has returned. Together with Carlsbad and Vista, it forms a tri-city area in San Diego County, and has a current population of approximately 175,000. Its famous pier is in its sixth incarnation with a length of almost 2,000 feet – with the previous five piers each destroyed by tumultuous storms.

With plans to finish her college degree in marketing, I recently caught up with Tylr for an update.

Since moving back, what have you rediscovered that you love about CA? 

The obvious answer: the ocean. I missed the ocean so much. Also, being able to see my family every day is amazing. I get to have mom as a best friend again, and I’m reconnecting with friends from grade school and high school. 

With some distance now, what is your perspective on Colorado?

It taught me independence, and to be an advocate for myself. Colorado brought out an adventurous side of me I had no idea I had.

What’s fun or interesting that you’ve experienced in Oceanside with regards to the industry? 

I kinda took a step back from bars, going to school full time. After taking a break from drinking, I have rediscovered my love of beer! There are so many new breweries in Oceanside since last time I lived here. I became inspired to study again for my second level Cicerone. Also, I’m behind the bar again…at Land & Water Co.

In what ways have you grown since moving? 

I’ve been taking a more serious approach with my health. I always loved working out, but I wanted to look for other interests besides cocktails and spirits. I’ve been taking aerial silks lessons, been rock climbing, and playing volleyball again. I have been putting family and health first. 

As with many other cities in the States, a culinary renaissance has risen in the tri-city region within the last decade – providing a diversity of food & beverage options for both residents and visitors. Land & Water Co. is an innovative restaurant created within a historical house that pays conscious attention to seasonal ingredients, sustainable methods, and responsible usage – with a special appreciation for the offerings of our natural environment. Located in Carlsbad, Land & Water Co. is also home to The Charles Kenneth, a speakeasy with an entrance located on the southeast side. There are house rules for this escape, and dressing sharp is strongly encouraged. Drinks are made with intention, patience, and creativity, and not in careless haste. Cheyenne Tylr is in good company – and, no doubt, a priceless addition to the establishment and tri-city community.

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By Kristian DePue
Header Photo Credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios
Oceanside photos (other six): Rory Team

Rocky Mountain Food Report on Retrograde and Cory Leicester: Shaken, not stirred

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Cocktails | Conversations, Taylor Bishop

Storms make oaks take deeper root. – George Herbert, 17th century devotional lyricist

Restaurant Report Card

Springdale…Eureka Springs…Springfield…Colorado Springs

Taylor Bishop is from Berryville, Arkansas – located in the northwest corner of the state, with a population of 5,000. It is one of two county seats in Carroll County and was founded by Blackburn Henderson Berry in 1850 – his nephew, James Henderson Berry, would become the 14th governor of the 25th state in 1883. Berryville is home to both handgun manufacturing companies and the International Defensive Pistol Association. The primary employer is a large Tyson Foods plant – and the corporation is headquartered an hour away in Springdale, riding the line between Benton and Washington counties, near the Oklahoma border.

“People move to Berryville for work [at the Tyson plant],” says Bishop. “It offers a lot of jobs…but it stinks. I ran cross country, and we had a route that went by the plant…every time I wanted to throw up.”

Her mother owns a restaurant in Eureka Springs, the other county seat in Carroll – roughly 20 minutes away, across Kings River in the Ozark Mountains. “It’s country food: fried chicken, catfish, shrimp, crab legs, and frog legs.”

Bishop grew up bussing as a child (clearing and cleaning after customers) at her mother’s restaurant, and later making $700 a weekend waiting tables as a teen. Early on, she discovered her love for entertaining. “When I was 14, I sang in a live country music production called The Ozark Mountain Hoe-down,” Bishop says. “[The building] looks like a barn…with a theatre, stage, and musicians. We would do comedy skits…I was dressing like Dolly Parton and [singing] Patsy Cline songs.”


Previously a songwriter for others – such as Bill Phillips, Skeeter Davis, and Hank Williams Jr. – Dolly Parton released her debut album, Hello, I’m Dolly, the day before Valentines Day in 1967. In addition to being a singer, songwriter and performer, she’s acted in films, such as 9 to 5 (1980) and Steel Magnolias (1989).

Patsy Cline (1932 – 1963) died at the age of 30, with Harold Franklin “Hacksaw” Hawkins and Lloyd “Cowboy” Costas, in a plane crash over Tennessee. She is considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th Century, and raised the bar for commercial country music.


During her senior year of high school, Bishop had a particularly difficult day and her mother decided they should talk about her future – what she should do after graduation, knowing that this chapter was soon coming to a close. They sat down at a McDonald’s with coffee and began listing her interests and talents. “My mom suggested the idea of being a reporter – I loved writing, public speaking, and performing in front of people. [That conversation] was a defining moment.”

In her first year after secondary school, Bishop went to community college in Springfield, Missouri. She wanted to take a year off before enrolling full-time at a university. She was exhausted – her father was the high school football coach, and a lot had been expected of her academically, athletically, and socially.

In Springfield, she worked at a greasy spoon called Grad School. “My boss dropped out of graduate school and opened a restaurant. [They have] one of the best burgers – two Steak N’ Shake-type patties with sharp cheddar…melted, buttery and creamy,” Bishop reflects. A year later, she began at Missouri State University.

She worked at Grad School for four years, and during that time the owner cut the red tape on a bar called the J.O.B. Public House. “After grad school, you get the job – that was the idea. We had over 300 kinds of whiskey. Throughout college, I worked 40 hours a week. I didn’t get the typical experience – no parties…I went to one football game. I didn’t have a choice; I had to pay rent. Looking back, I’m glad I had to – I [learned] what it takes to succeed.”

After graduating, Bishop applied to 100 potential employers. “I wanted a job as soon as I graduated. I heard the horror stories – my friends who already graduated found the market very depressing.”

She heard back from Biloxi, Mississippi and Jefferson City, Missouri – but Colorado Springs’ Fox 21 News attracted her most. It was the largest market she applied to, and considered it “a shot in the dark.” Two weeks before graduating college, she received a call from Fox 21. “I had offers, but nothing I was sold on,” Bishop admits. “[They] flew me out the day before Christmas Eve in 2014. I interviewed and fell in love with the Springs. As a kid, I had trouble spending the night at a friend’s; I missed my mom. I never thought I’d leave home. Springfield doesn’t count; it was an hour and a half away. Moving was another defining moment in my life.”

Food Handling & Foot Fetishes

At Fox 21, she eventually began producing and hosting Restaurant Report Card – a segment that brings public attention to restaurants who have health code violations. “I’ve worked in the industry. I know what it takes to keep kitchens clean. I only fail restaurants that have four or more critical violations – it can’t be things like an employee cup without a lid. I care about handling food with bare hands, risk of cross contamination, and holding food at unsafe temperatures.”

Not wanting to ambush, Bishop calls restaurants telling them the story she’s planning and gives them the opportunity to speak up before an audience. In addition, she tells restaurants to contact her after a follow-up inspection so she can show viewers how they’ve corrected the issues. Each Restaurant Report Card features an establishment that passes as well – for every negative, there’s a positive. “I advocate for local restaurants. My mom is a small business owner, and has been for 25 years. I know it’s a lot of work.”

The Report Card has become popular – it’s frequently one of the most clicked-on stories on Fox 21’s website. Over Fourth of July, Bishop traveled out of town. On her drive back, she got into a car accident and was unable to produce a story – and viewers were asking why it didn’t air. “People say, ‘This is news that affects me.’ There’s been a demand, and that feels good.”

Out of curiosity, I ask what’s the strangest thing a fan has done, and I get an unexpected answer. “I guarantee you that almost every female reporter has been asked for photos of their feet – it’s a thing. I’ll get asked, ‘Will you send pictures of your feet?’ They come across very matter-of-fact, as if it’s not a fetish – but I’m sure it is.”

Sitting in Loyal Coffee, we talk about drinks and food we enjoy, and it quickly becomes clear that Bishop has a broad, eclectic taste – from oysters to Mexican dishes, and from Bloody Marys to beer and wine.

“I worked in a whiskey bar, and I love an Old Fashioned,” says Bishop. I like Mint Juleps. [Distillery] 291…what a gem to have locally. Lately, gin has been my favorite. I love a Tom Collins; it’s so refreshing. I like anything with lavender or rose water. Lee Spirits – they’re amazing.”


Distillery 291 is a small batch whiskey maker founded by Michael Myers and located in Colorado Springs. 291 won World’s Best Rye at the 2018 World Whiskies Awards, and listed in both Forbes and Maxim.


“I’m a beer girl. My favorite beer right now is Avery’s El Gose. I also love the Apricot Blonde by Dry Dock.”


Avery Brewing Co.’s El Gose (goes-uh) is a tart sour ale with sea salt added. Avery was founded in 1993 and is located in Boulder, CO. Dry Dock’s Apricot Blonde is a crisp golden ale fermented with fruit. Dry Dock Brewing Co. was founded in 2005 and is located in Aurora, CO.


“Piglatin [Cocina] is my go-to, I go once or twice a week. I love the Kimchi quesadilla…and their spicy margarita.”


Piglatin Cocina is in Colorado Springs, and began as a food truck that was featured on the Food Network. Their menu is primarily inspired by Latin American dishes of Colombia, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba. Their interior design is influenced by urban East Coast culture, and their inclusive motto is “Food For The People.”


Beating out hiking and camping, Bishop’s most enjoyable hobby is cooking – she finds that she can express herself. With a folder filled with recipes, including several of her mother’s, as a foundation, she experiments in the kitchen – trying new combinations to discover if they compliment one another. “I wasn’t into cooking growing up – but out on my own, I fell in love. I make sloppy joe fries once a week. I’ve launched a website called Over Easy & Less Greasy. The concept is all about recipes. I want to use cheap ingredients – cooking on a budget.”

Rehab, Recovery, and Redemption

Towards the end of our time at Loyal, I ask about people who have inspired her and we circle back to her parents – and a story about her father surprises me.

“My parents split when I was eight – my dad was an alcoholic. Seeing my mom maintain the restaurant as a single mother was an amazing example. My dad going away to rehab was the hardest time of my life; I was forced to grow up fast. I think of life with the perspective of: Nothing will be as hard as that. I wrote him a letter when I was eleven, saying, ‘I need you to figure it out. Leave alcohol and drugs behind or you’re going to lose me.’ He was into meth too. He calls it a letter from God and never touched anything again. He’d been a high school football coach…and lost everything, but was able to get his life back and coach again. He proved that you can overcome anything.”

Working at Catfish Cabin

Young Taylor working at her mother’s restaurant, Catfish Cabin.

Hendrix and Ozzie

Taylor’s fur babies on a hike, Hendrix and Ozzie – named after Jimi Hendrix and Ozzy Osbourne (that probably goes without saying).

Over Easy & Less Greasy

Filming Over Easy & Less Greasy

Headshot (1)


 

Written by Kristian DePue, contributing writer for Springs magazine. 

/springsmag.com

Instagram: @kristiandepue

Taylor Bishop, Fox21 News

fox21news.com

Instagram: @notsoswifttaylor

Over Easy & Less Greasy

/overeasylessgreasy.com

Instagram: @overeasylessgreasy

 

Carlos of Lee Spirits Co.

Cocktails | Conversations, Carlos David Garcia of Lee Spirits Co. 

A wild, untamed youth learns nobility through art. – Jacques d’Amboise, award-winning dancer and choreographer

Header photo, Carlos

I took note of Carlos David Garcia while a guest at his gin bar – he was having fun, enjoying his work, seemingly the ringleader of entertainment. Later, I had the privilege of speaking with him over wine at The Wild Goose Meeting House in downtown Colorado Springs. Next-door, Garcia works as bar manager of the gin speakeasy, Brooklyn’s on Boulder Street. The cocktail lounge hides behind the facade of an early 20th century haberdashery, and operates as the tasting room for Lee Spirits Co.


Established by cousins Nick and Ian Lee, Lee Spirits Co. is a Colorado-based distillery that crafts fine gin and artisan liqueurs fitting for classic cocktail recipes and modern drinks inspired by such. Brooklyn’s on Boulder St. is Lee Spirits’ tasting room, inspired by Prohibition-era speakeasies, and masked with the front of a fine clothing store.


Garcia’s father was born in Peru and came to the States in his teens. He arrived with his grandmother, who wanted a new opportunity. “The story [is] grey,” says Garcia. “Overall, my father doesn’t talk about it.”

According to family lore, his great grandmother was a Visconti, a noble name of Italian dynasties. She married a racecar driver – which, at that time, was considered a peasant’s occupation – and her family disowned her. However, her husband became very successful, and she traveled with him as he raced around the world. He sadly crashed and died in Peru, where she would eventually remarry.

In an entirely differing locale, Garcia’s midwestern mother was born in Nebraska. His parents met in Denver, where he went to high school and also ran from home – he and his father came to odds during his youth – and Garcia stubbornly lived in cars and on couches until “adopted.”

“I always wear this,” says Garcia, displaying a necklace. “The pendant reads, Love Always, Leva. [Leva] was this girl I knew from newspaper class…and a friend. Her family took me in before college. Initially, I wasn’t gonna go [to college]; I planned to drop out my sophomore year.”

A teacher convinced him to graduate, and during his senior year she threatened to fail him if he didn’t apply to colleges. “I applied just to be a smartass. I was accepted by UCCS and my teacher was like, ‘Just go. Freshman year is basically partying.’ I thought that sounded appealing.”

 After taking an entrepreneur class, he fell in love with education and graduated.

They said I was too charismatic and outgoing – that I wouldn’t be a good bartender.

 Working in the service industry throughout his teens, he’d always been interested in tending bar – persistently asking to be put behind it. “Every place said I was too charismatic and outgoing – that I wouldn’t be good because I wouldn’t focus on getting drinks done. They were corporate jobs – and at the time, I thought they made sense.”

His journey to bar manager of Brooklyn’s started with his college capstone (senior exhibition) – to create a business. At the time, tequila fascinated him, along with other agave-based liquors, such as mezcal, raicilla, and bacanora.


Mezcal is distilled from a variety of agave plants – unlike tequila, which is only distilled from blue agave. Mezcal gets its smokiness when the heart of the plant, known as the piña, is roasted in stone-lined pits. It is primarily produced in Oaxaca.

Raicilla is similar to mezcal, the hearts are harvested, fire-roasted, mashed, fermented and distilled. Originating in Jalisco, Raicilla pre-dates the arrival of conquistadors. It is typically more than 100 proof.

Bacanora has been made and distilled the same way for hundreds of years. Workers harvest the agave’s piña and roast it in volcanic rock. It ferments in airtight cement pits and then is distilled. Bacanora was bootlegged for many generations, only being made legal in 1992. It is produced in Sonora municipalities.


For his capstone, he wanted to start a tequila distillery. During this time, he met Ian and Nick Lee through an entrepreneurial program. He reached out to them, asking to be taught distilling. The Lee cousins agreed to, and Garcia volunteered his time in exchange – bottling, sweeping, and mopping.

One day, Garcia arrived late, and the Lees asked why. “I told them I applied to be a bartender. I needed a job.” The Lee cousins, both baffled, offered a position on the floor – answering the door, greeting guests, serving, and washing dishes. Quickly, opportunities kept opening – bar back…bartender…head bartender – leading to Garcia filling his current role. “I’ve been bar manager for a year. Ian and Nick opened the door, and Nate [Windham] mentored me – he taught me everything.”

You can make the best martini, but if you’re a dick, people will go somewhere else.

 Windham, who’d been tending bars for 20 years, showed Garcia what to read – American Bar by Charles Schumann, Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide, The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, Straight Up or On The Rocks by William Grimes, and Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails.

Death & Co opened on New Years Eve 2006/07 in Manhattan’s East Village, and has since received worldwide recognition as a cocktail institution and industry leader. In the spring of 2018, Death & Co opened a second establishment in Denver, inside The Ramble Hotel – located in the River North (RiNo) Arts District.

“Nate was charismatic. His knowledge was impressive. He was the opposite of what the corporate bars told me,” says Garcia. “His approach was about having fun while teaching. He would tell me, ‘We teach people how to drink.’ Under Nate, the things that were most beneficial related to the mindset of [focusing on] the guest. At the end of the day, you can make the best martini, but if you’re a dick to everyone…people will go somewhere else.”

Garcia intentionally refers to his customers as guests. He wants them to feel as if they’ve been intentionally invited into his home. As a result, he’s met and affected people from all walks of life. “I’ll never forget this private party…a guest thanked me, saying, ‘I was in the military. I haven’t relaxed like this in fifteen years.’ He almost started crying. He was drinking, so I took it with a grain of salt. However, his daughter wasn’t drinking. She comes up saying, ‘I’ve never seen my father this happy.’ That melted my heart.”

When it comes to spirits and bars, the question is: What’s your goal?

Garcia and I are talking about favorite drinks and bars, and he mentions taverns in Denver: American Bonded, Nocturne, Union Lodge No. 1, Ste. Ellie, Cooper Lounge, and Star Bar. “I really enjoy Star Bar. It feels like a dive, but those bartenders really know what they’re doing,” says Garcia. “My favorite, though, is The Dead Rabbit in New York, in Lower Manhattan. That was, hands down, the best.”


The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog is a pub in the Financial District (FiDi) of Lower Manhattan, New York City. Since opening in 2013, the establishment has won several prestigious awards, including World’s Best Bar 2016 by World’s 50 Best Bars.


As far as drinks go, his first choices are simple and traditional. “My knowledge comes from Lee Spirits,” Garcia admits. “I’m surrounded by gin; I love gin. My favorite cocktail is a Tom Collins or a Bronx.”


A Tom Collins (likely deriving its name from Old Tom gin) was memorialized with Jerry Thomas’s 1876 recipe. A typical Tom Collins is built as such:

3 parts gin

2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 part simple syrup

Carbonated water to taste

Mix the gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup with ice – top with soda water, garnish with a lemon slice and maraschino cheery, and serve in a Collins glass (typically taller and narrower than a highball glass).

A Bronx is essentially a martini with orange juice. In the early 20th Century, the Bronx was a popular rival to the martini and the Manhattan. Like the Manhattan, the Bronx is named after one of New York City’s five boroughs. A Bronx recipe’s proportions vary, but the drink is commonly made as follows:

6 parts gin

3 parts sweet red vermouth

2 parts dry vermouth

3 parts orange juice

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice; shake well, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Serve the drink straight up, without ice, and garnished with an orange peel.


Garcia continues, “When it comes to drinking, the question is: What are you trying to achieve? What’s your goal? If you want something that tastes like hot cinnamon candy that’ll get you drunk, Fireball wins. If you want a craft experience, then an entirely different option wins. If you want to play video games and drink beer all night, you can go to Supernova, [the arcade bar] across the street.”

I’ve never been creative in any other avenue. This is the best industry where I can keep growing.

He paints a picture for me of how Brooklyn’s menu is created – a collaborative effort akin to a writer’s room. A suggestion for an experimental syrup, such as beet syrup, is pitched from someone on the team and they will make it. The concept is tasted as a group, and paired with various elements. Feedback and criticism is given; changes are made. “Lee Spirits is a quality brand. We’ve strived to be the best,” says Garcia. “To be the best, you can’t have an ego.”

He continues, admitting, “I’m not a creative person – I can’t draw…can’t sing…can’t write. I’ve never been creative in any other avenue. This is the best industry where I can keep growing.”

Lee Spirits Co. is growing as well, beyond Colorado, selling their products now in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, with plans for further expansion.

With wine glasses empty, I ask if he has anything that he would like to plug – any events, competitions or projects – and he tells me about a new venture that he is developing, Behind The Stick. It’s a podcast that he is creating and recording. The name, Behind The Stick, is a phrase that means, “behind the bar” – possibly, not certainly, referring to the tap handles pulled to pour draft beers. He describes the podcast as being “by bartenders for bartenders,” with conversations about how to learn and grow in the industry. “I’m interviewing bar managers, brand ambassadors, and distillers. I just interviewed a woman who works for Death & Co. New York, actually.”

As we’re getting up from our table, Garcia adds a coda to our conversation, telling me, “[Lee Spirits] is [incredibly] giving and caring to their employees – they [press] all of us to grow and become better people. This company has changed my life. …I learned to keep pushing, keep trying, and stay hungry.”

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Kristian DePue, contributing writer for Springs magazine and Edible Pikes Peak Region

Instagram: @kristiandepue


Photographs by Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

sunchaserstudios.info

Instagram: @sunchaserstudios

*Drinks photographed (top to bottom): Tom Collins, Bronx, Martinez


Lee Spirits Co. | A Craft Gin Distillery in Colorado Springs

leespirits.com

Instagram: @leespiritsco


Carlos David Garcia | Bar Manager of Brooklyn’s on Boulder St.

Instagram: @carlosthecreative

Vignette: To waste or not to waste

Years ago, I briefly worked for a wastewater treatment department. I worked for the arm of public works infrastructure that handles…toilet water.

This was for a small city in Northern Indiana. And at that time, the city was in the midst of transitioning from an old wastewater treatment facility to a newer, larger one just outside of town. The old plant was over half a century old, and it was showing its age with its yellow paint chipping away, exposing rust and crumbling concrete. I can still vividly picture the abandoned laboratory above the control room, filled with chemistry glassware and boxes. All the lab technicians had moved, working solely out of the new facility, leaving behind a room for dust-filled sunlight and ghosts.

One summer day, I was lowered into a manhole by a cable. This was not common for me, in my role. However, I was the smallest person in the department. I was also the youngest. Everyone else was significantly older and larger. They claimed that no one would fit other than me. This manhole was in an old part of town, and it was claustrophobic, but I think none of them wanted to suit up.

I was put in a jumpsuit, with boots, gloves, hardhat and protective eyewear. A harness was strapped around my torso and connected to a cable, and the cable was connected to a tripod positioned over the open sewer access point. Slowly, I was lowered down, with a robot in my gloved hands.

When I say “robot,” I am referring to a remotely controlled camera on wheels. This camera sent a real time video feed to a box truck filled with a monitor and controls – simply referred to as “the camera truck.” A former plumber named John was the regular operator of the camera truck. John was the closest in age to me, and he was over a decade older, and nearly three times my size. He looked like he played football in high school, and probably did. …He liked ACDC, and lost part of his hearing to their music.

I was lowered until I was suspended eye-level with an old, clay pipeline about six to eight inches in diameter. The city’s wastewater was moved primarily by gravity. The lines were all on a gradual slant, and ran great distances to pump stations, or what they call “lift stations.” Lift stations would raise the collected wastewater back to a higher elevation, and it would then again be conveyed by gravity. This underground network of conventional gravity lines and lift stations eventually transported the dirty water to the treatment plant, where it would go through various physical, chemical and biological processes – including the use of ultraviolet light and oxygenation – to produce environmentally safe effluent.

“Effluent” simply means water discharge…or the outflow of water.

I placed the robot safely in the pipeline and Big John, in the camera truck, remotely drove it until it was out of my sight. He found what they suspected: a wastewater line from a nearby home was discharging into the pipe I placed the robot in. It was a problem, because the manhole I was lowered into was not for sewage water – it was for storm water. There are storm water lines and waste water lines underneath towns and cities. Storm water is rain run off; there are drains on roads to keep rainwater from pooling up and flooding the streets. But a toilet – that belonged to a man in a bathrobe, underwear and boots – was flushing into this pipe intended only for rain drainage, not human excrement. His ass was polluting our town.

This was the only time I was lowered into a manhole. However, it was not the only time I had to suit up in the disposable coveralls, latex gloves, rubber boots and safety glasses. More than once, I found myself in the bottom of a drained settling tank, or what they call “clarifiers,” with a push broom sized squeegee. It was like cleaning an empty pool with a toothbrush, except this pool normally held water that would cause Polio.

On Fridays, someone had to do a job we simply called “Trouble Spots,” and normally this someone was Old Dave. Trouble Spots referred to checking shallow manholes around town where converging lines were known to often plug, or commonly backup, for various reasons. One trouble spot, for example, was just outside a cigarette store called Low Bob’s. One of the lines leading to this manhole came from a nearby house that was known to have five-too-many people living in it. It was a busy pipeline, is what I’m saying. Trouble Spots was, overall, an easy Friday job, but needed to be done before the weekend break. If no trouble was found, the job would take half a day – done by lunch. Old Dave was rarely in a hurry, though. Old Dave was coming up on retirement.

Not always, but often someone would go with him, and half the time it was me. Dave would drive, and I would get out, open up the manholes and inspect them. I liked Dave. In fact, out of all the employees, he was the one I connected with most. I liked his carefree spirit, and his sense of humor.

One time, while riding with him. I, for whatever reason, mentioned aloud how I needed to get in the gym and start lifting weights. Without a beat, he immediately reacted, saying “Yes you do! Women take one look at you and think, ‘I ain’t touching him! He looks like he’s on meth.’”

On another occasion, again riding around with him, we had to make a run to an auto parts store. If I recall correctly, one of the city trucks had a bad set of windshield wipers. Once we parked, Dave noticed a railroad maintenance truck driving down the train trucks adjacent to the auto store. It was one of those trucks that have retractable railroad wheels. However, when he saw the truck, he stared dumbfounded – or pretending to be dumbfounded – for a few seconds, then turned to me and said “He ain’t supposed to be doing that: a truck driving on the tracks. What the hell does he think this is, a damn cartoon world or something?”

Something else I have never forgotten about Dave…

Everyday, at the end of the workday, when all the employees got themselves ready to clock out at 3:30, Dave would prepare a sandwich. The sandwich was for his brother, who was residing in a nursing home. His brother was significantly older than him – fifteen years older. Dave was an accident; his parents were long done having kids. I remember him telling me that it even showed in their parenting style, being much looser with him than with his older siblings. They were old and tired and didn’t want to exhaust themselves trying to keep little Dave in line. At the end of every workday, he made a sandwich, because everyday he visited his ailing brother.

Something else about Dave that I learned, first through the other guys commenting about it, followed by a few observations, followed by me directly asking him about it: Apparently, he was a hoarder. Supposedly, his barn was packed.

I do recall, for example, while we were finishing interior work on the new break room, one of the air conditioning diffusers that was to be installed in the drop ceiling was the wrong size. Dave asked our boss, the operations manager, if he could take it home. Our boss, not surprised at the request, allowed him to. The other guys laughed about it, and shook their heads, knowing well that he wouldn’t have any purpose for an industrial air conditioning diffuser.

When I asked Dave about it, the hoarding, he told me he supposed he collects and keeps things because of his parents – they lived through The Great Depression.

Years prior, when I was in high school, I had a friend named Dan. Dan and I grew up in a small Indiana town with a population under 2,500 people. During the summer, Dan worked for a beer distributer that trucked cases and kegs of beer to stores and bars. He would ride with a driver, and work as the young muscle – unloading the trailer.

One of the drivers he worked with was named Larry. Larry had a large, unkempt beard, a large unkempt belly, and eyeglasses that looked like they were made in 1962 – in both style and condition. He looked a little like Santa Clause – if Santa worked as a truck driver the other eleven months of the year, and was unconcerned with his personal hygiene. Dan told me that on one occasion while riding in the cab, Larry began to grunt and pick at his beard. After digging around for a bit, he pulled something out: it was a spider.

One summer evening, Dan and I were riding bicycles on dusty, country roads. While outside of town, he decided he wanted to show me Larry’s house. We pedaled our way there, with Dan leading. When we arrived, it was difficult to see the house, at least in its entirety. The grass and foliage was overgrown – severely overgrown – like a pocket jungle surrounded by corn and bean fields. Taking it all in, I think we counted seven cars on the property, and none of them looked like they were in driving condition. They were better suited as homes for raccoons and opossums. What I could see of the house, from the road, looked more like an abandoned home – and through the windows, you could see that the house was full, with stuff stacked up against the windows.

Dan then told me he wanted to show me Larry’s new house. Larry, apparently, packed himself out of his country home. He ran out of room for even himself, and so he purchased a second home, in town, to live.

We hauled our way back to town and to the little house. Again, the grass was overgrown, paint chipping off the exterior, objects in weathered condition all over the yard, and stuff packed up against the windows. Larry was well on his way to buying a third home.

The last time I saw Old Dave, he was outside a liquor store strapping a case of cheap beer to the back of his Honda motorcycle. I remember it being a case of Hamm’s – the cheap end of cheap beer. I no longer worked for the wastewater treatment unit, and neither did he. He had retired. We talked for a little bit, and through the brief conversation I found out that his brother, who he used to make sandwiches for, had passed away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vignette: BFE

I have this vague memory from several years ago that I think about infrequently…not often. I was standing in my parents’ kitchen, and it was night. I was anxious and very distressed over something – what it was specifically, I don’t recall. Standing in the dark kitchen, leaned against a counter top, I began praying about whatever it was that was worrying me. After the brief prayer, I remember looking up and out the window that faced my parents’ backyard. Through the window, I saw – or at least I thought I saw – a very tall, figure of light walking across the yard in the night. Once it was outside the frame of the window, or outside the scope of what I could see through the window from where I was standing, I approached the window to expand my view of the yard. There was nothing. I moved to another room, farther down the house, in the direction that the figure of light was moving. I looked through another window – again, nothing. I moved farther down to another window – nothing.

As I mentioned, I don’t think much about it now. However, in the moment, I remember thinking that I really saw something, whether it was real or my imagination. Maybe I saw someone otherworldly – an inter-dimensional being from another plane of existence – or maybe it was an isolated hallucination, a brief neurological episode, brought on by heightened anxiety combined with religious belief.

Whatever it was then, it’s a fading, dream-like memory now.

For six years, every summer, I worked for the Parks Department of my hometown – a small town in Northern Indiana. During the years I worked, there were only two parks under the department: a very small one on the North end of town, and a very large one on the East side of town, through which the Tippecanoe River snaked. The large one was often referred to as simply: “the Town Park.” The river’s route split the Town Park in two, with the majority of the property shaped like an elongated horseshoe or a peninsula when seen from an aerial view. Supposedly, in the 1950s, there were a couple sightings of a Sasquatch – a BigFoot – in my hometown near the river; and supposedly, according to the testimonies, he had an unpleasant odor. The large park – the Town Park – hosted various sports tournaments, the county fair, and the Northern Indiana Power From the Past, which was a large, weeklong event that showcased antique tractors, antique automobiles, a flea market, and a thrilling wood chipper demonstration.

One of my responsibilities was to clean and lock up the public restrooms every evening, Monday through Friday. There was one set of restrooms – one building, with a men’s room on the East side, and a women’s room on the West. Throughout the rest of the park, including the area across the suspension bridge where the tennis courts were located, there were “Port-a-Johns” or out houses that were maintained by a separate, external company. However, the permanent, brick & mortar restrooms were my responsibility to sanitize.

Each night, during the week, I would have to drop whatever it was I was doing and go to the park. I would park my truck at the office, clock in, and then walk over to the restrooms. Typically, cleaning the restrooms was expected to take me thirty minutes. I wasn’t allowed to work over forty hours a week; the town didn’t want to pay me overtime. So, I worked seven and a half hours during the day, each day: mowing, trimming, painting, planting flowers, watering trees and picking up trash.

Along with the doors to each restroom, there was also a door to a storage and janitorial closet. Inside were toiletry supplies to replace what was used throughout the day: toilet paper, disposable hand towels, and liquid soap. There was also my janitor bucket, with spray bottles, a toilet brush, toilet bowl cleaner, etc. I’d put on latex gloves, grab my bucket, and get to work.

Some men go to work carrying a nice, leather business bag with a laptop and presentation notes. Others…a bucket.

Often, in the evenings, there would be teenagers parked near the restrooms, smoking cigarettes, texting on their flip phones, playing Linkin Park through their car stereos, revving their truck engines, and complaining about their teachers or their parents.

Most of the time, really, the restrooms weren’t in too bad of shape. It would require basic sanitation measures: spraying the toilets and sinks with disinfectant and wiping them all down, refilling both the paper towel dispenser and the toilet paper holders. Some nights, however, I wished I was I wearing a hazmat suit.

I’ll try not to be overly graphic, but I still want to provide an example of “some nights.”

One evening, in the men’s room, one of the toilets had the lid down over the seat. On top of the lid was a heavy pile of feces. Under the lid, I discovered, was more treasure: the bowl was stuffed with dirty toilet paper, and even more feces. And the tank – or the upper deck – was also stuffed full of toilet paper.

I’m not sure that all this work was done by a single person. The amount was a sight to behold. This might have been a two-man job, toiling away in the stall to make the biggest mess that they could, laughing and defecating together. …Or maybe they weren’t laughing? Perhaps they took their work very seriously; and afterwards, stood back, examining their creation as if it were a display of contemporary, postmodern art that represented the disappearance of positive masculine influence upon children in the 21st Century.

A pretentious, postmodern pile of shit.

I don’t specifically recall if I did – probably because my mind repressed the trauma to a limited extent – but I imagine I gagged at both the sight and smell of it.

Occasionally, from time to time, one or more of the toilets would be blown apart by an explosive. This was the summer, and fireworks stores were open for business, selling to idle hands.

Blowing things up was something you did as a teenager in farmland Indiana. When I was in high school, my friends and I would blow up aerosol cans on country roads. One of these friends, and I, both worked as summer help at a local factory – a factory that employed half the town. At the factory, there were pressurized spray cans of a powerful adhesive remover. One day, he stole a couple cans. I was too scared to. At night, a group of us drove out to the country, amid the corn and bean fields, with our spray paint cans and a pellet gun. We searched for a quiet road and stopped the car. An aerosol can was placed a good distance away, ahead of the car. Gasoline was dumped on it, and then we lit it on fire. We’d run back to the car, and get behind it – putting it between us and the explosive. From behind the vehicle, one of us would shoot the flaming spray paint can with the pellet gun and it would explode into a ball of fire. Then we’d change location – find another road. I remember we discovered one with a segment of thick tree coverage, nearly creating a tunnel of limbs and leaves over the length of road. With the sky obscured, and the moonlight blocked out, it was exceptionally dark. In the darkness, we lit a can of the adhesive remover on fire. Once again, from safely behind the car, one of us aimed the pellet gun at the flames. This time, unexpectedly, when the aerosol can was pierced, instead of a ball of fire, it erupted into a massive mushroom cloud that illuminated the tunnel. For a very brief moment, it was very bright. …Luckily, our dumbasses never caught a tree or field on fire.

So, I blew up aerosol cans on country roads. Other kids blew up toilets in public restrooms.

One night, when I arrived at the park for my half hour of janitorial work, I was doing my usual walk to the restrooms from the park office, after clocking-in. While walking in the night, I heard the sound of someone crying. I looked to the left, and could see the silhouette of a girl pacing, holding a phone to her ear. I listened and could hear her begging and pleading, between sobs, for a ride. I walked up to the storage closet door, unlocked it, flipped the switch for the single light bulb with cobwebs as a cover, and got my bucket.

I sprayed disinfectant, wiped down toilet seats, and replenished the paper towel dispenser in the men’s restroom. As I was walking around to the other side, to the women’s restroom, I could still hear the girl crying in the dark. At some point, while in the women’s restroom, I told myself, “If she’s still here, in the park, when I’m done and clocked out, I’ll offer her a ride.”

I finished cleaning the women’s restroom, checked that the doors were locked, put my bucket away, locked the storage closet, and irrationally checked again that the restroom doors were locked. On my walk back to the office, I didn’t hear a sound. I guess she was gone; I was off the hook. I sat in the office for a few minutes before clocking out to get my full 30 minutes. Once I punched out, I shut off the lights and locked the office door. I paused, because I faintly heard her in the distance, breaking the stillness of the night.

I got in my truck and drove it over to the restrooms, where she was seated nearby on a picnic table, crying.

I asked her if she needed a ride home. Her face changed; she immediately stopped crying. She thanked me profusely, and then she called me her angel.

She was a petite and pretty, fair-skinned and freckled, in little denim shorts, with long, flowing red hair. She was also inebriated.

She hopped into the passenger side of the cab, and drunkenly reiterated that I was her angel. I didn’t anticipate the length of the drive; her house ended up being thirty minutes away, in the middle of nowhere. I remember thinking the next day that I wouldn’t have been able to retrace the drive again. Now, today, all I remember was that we drove East…with my truck’s headlights going before us.

During the drive, she told me what happened – why she was stranded at the park that night. Apparently, she and her boyfriend had been drinking in the park that evening and got into a fight. He left her with no ride home, and refused to return for her. I asked her who she was on the phone with earlier. She said that she had called several people, no one was available, and her parents refused to come get her. I also discovered that her boyfriend was someone that I went to school with, and was in my high school graduating class – a class of about 120.

I had no idea where we were going in the night; thankfully I had my little intoxicated navigator with a tear-stained face.

She kept bringing up that she had a shotgun under her bed at home. I remember, even before the shotgun was mentioned, I was very reserved in my demeanor. I was trying my best to counterbalance her emotional state. She talked a lot, and I was quiet, and all my responses had the intention of trying to de-escalate her, and her present emotional state. For the thirty minute drive, I played the role of Out Patient Case Manager, a social worker in a truck. I made calm suggestions, and reiterated them, and she reassured me that the shotgun would not be used…well, not used for anything more than intimidation. She must have convinced me, because I didn’t take any action after I safely delivered her home. She either convinced me, or I really didn’t care much if my former classmate got murdered with a shotgun.

…and he didn’t: He didn’t get murdered with a shotgun. Several years later, he made the news for felony charges of fraud and theft.

Her house was on the bend of a dirt road, partially hidden by rural overgrowth and the darkness of night. She thanked me profusely again, referred to me as an angel again, and walked a surprisingly straight line to her front door.

To get home, I simply drove West. If you just roughly know where you are going, country roads in Northern Indiana are reasonably easy to navigate. Most of them are straight, perpendicular lines, forming a simple grid of gravel and dirt pathways cutting through the forests, cornfields, and cattle pastures. I drove West in the summer night, a wall of growing corn on each side, in a shadowy blur of green, and Third Eye Blind turned up loud.

Vignette: Station One

In late July of 2016, a wildfire broke out North of Los Angeles, just outside the City of Santa Clarita. This wildfire grew quickly, spreading out of control, and received a name – The Sand Fire – with news headlines referring to it as such. Reports state that the wildfire started on the afternoon of July 22, 2016. I arrived in Santa Clarita just 24 hours before, on the afternoon of July 21st, after driving over 2,000 miles from Indiana.

I left Indiana for California for a various reasons. However, looking back, the underlying or foundational reason was that I had found myself in a rut; my life had become stagnant, lacking growth or development.

Specifically, I stayed in Newhall, the southernmost and oldest community, or district, of Santa Clarita. On a map, or from an aerial view, Santa Clarita forms a Y-shape or an upside down triangle, flanked by highways 14 and 5. Newhall is located at the bottom, near the point, where 14 and 5 meet. The apartment building where I was residing resembled Butch’s place in 1994’s Pulp Fiction – where Vincent Vega is gunned down in the bathroom. I crashed on the couch in an apartment where five other guys already lived. I called that couch “Station One,” because generally – most days during my time in California – you could either find me at “Station One” or “Station Two,” which was the coffee shop down the street, just a couple blocks away. The short daily walk to the coffee shop took me past a house with fake, plastic grass, where most days a sweet dog was usually napping. Anytime the dog was out, I would get her attention and pet her head, play with her ears, and tell her she was good. There were many houses with green, lush grass made of plastic, but there were several more with brown, parched yards.

I spent a lot of time at the coffee shop down the street. I spent a lot of time drinking coffee. It was 30% of my diet while I was in California; the other two-thirds was made up of burritos and booze. That’s really not far from the truth; the majority of what I ate during that time was Mexican food, and most often a burrito. I never seemed to get tired of them.

The day after arriving in sunny California, there was a massive plume of smoke in the sky that looked like a volcano had erupted. Within a few days, the sky was split down the middle: half was clear and blue, while the other half was a thick blanket of grey and shades of brown. One day, I rode in the passenger seat of a ‘93 Mercury Capri convertible – southbound on Sierra Highway to get back to Newhall – as ash started to fall from above.

The Sand Fire continued into August, and scorched over 41,000 acres of land.

Santa Clarita wasn’t a stranger to catastrophe and tragedy. In 1928, the Santa Clarita region was the location of the second worst disaster in California’s history, after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, in terms of lives lost. In March 1928, the St. Francis Dam collapsed, and the subsequent wave of water washed away the lives of more than 430 people. The catastrophic rupture released an initial 140-foot avalanche of water. Large pieces of concrete were washed away. The largest, weighing 10,000 tons, rested about three-quarters of a mile from the dam site. The water moved southwest across California, destroying over a 1,000 homes. It traveled a total of 54 miles in five and a half hours, and washed out to sea near Ventura, dumping victims into the Pacific. Bodies would wash ashore as far south as San Diego. Many were never recovered. The dam’s remaining structure became known as “The Tombstone.”

Newhall was the site of another tragic incident known as the “Newhall Massacre” – a shootout that occurred in 1970 between two heavily armed career criminals and officers of the California Highway Patrol. Within five minutes, four officers were killed in the gunfire outside a truck stop on Interstate 5. The two gunmen fled the scene. Of the four patrol officers killed, the oldest was twenty-five; all were married and had children. The next day, in a house that he broke into, one of the criminals killed himself by discharging a shotgun placed under his chin; the shotgun was stolen from one of the officers killed the night before. The other gunman followed, committing suicide forty years later in Kern Valley State Prison, a maximum-security penitentiary.

When I arrived in Newhall, it was just two or three weeks after the release of Pokémon Go. At night, the streets were filled with young teenagers playing the augmented reality game – walking around in small groups, eyes down, glued to their mobile devices. Augmented reality, generally speaking, uses the real world environment and GPS locations, but adds to it – or augments it – with computer-generated graphics. It’s like adding a fictional layer on top of the real world that can only be seen through a mobile device. While the more commonly cited “virtual reality” entirely replaces the real world with a simulated one, usually through the use of a headset.

Another craze started not long after I arrived in California: The Creepy Clown Craze. Unsettling incidents of people dressed as evil clowns were making the news. Starting on the East Coast, calls to the police with reports of scary clowns increased and spread across the nation, reaching the West Coast by fall. After Halloween, the months of paranoia and reports stopped.

One night, while sleeping at Station One, I had a vivid dream…

In the dream, I woke up in a big white bed in a large, clean room of modern architectural design and minimal décor. The room was very open and spacious. The wall in front of me was entirely made up of floor-to-ceiling windows. The view through the windows was of a massive tropical mountain, covered with lush, green coffee plants feeding on the sunlight. Clouds were rolling down the face of the mountain, towards me.

I was in Costa Rica.

Suddenly, I was also on the phone – I think it was a cordless house phone – talking with my friend Nate. Over the phone, Nate was telling me how the fear of death motivated him to live life to the fullest – to take advantage of life and fill it with rich experiences.

Then I woke up, still at Station One.

I came to California to fight stagnation, to take advantage of life and fill it with rich experiences, but I found myself on a couch.

I had been to Costa Rica before. The first time I visited was in December 2014, and it stirred something within me. My friend Chris and I traveled together, flying out of Indianapolis to Miami, and from Miami to Costa Rica – two, three hour flights. We flew down to meet Nate.

We stayed in the mountains outside of Atenas, which is a small town thirty minutes West of the capital city of San Jose. Atenas sits in a valley, surrounded by tropical mountains covered in coffee plantations. The Pacific coast is about an hour drive away through the winding roads that follow the varied topography. From high points in the terrain, though, you can see the ocean. The sun rose around 5:30 in the morning, and was set around 5:30 in the evening, providing 12 hours days, and nights with a view of the twinkling lights in the valley below. One morning, when I woke up, there was a large cloud floating slowly over the valley, straight out, at the level of the house; it was a little surreal.

Our mornings were long; we took our time. It was usually coffee and cigarettes outside on the porch, make breakfast, then eat breakfast on the porch, followed by more coffee and cigarettes. Coffee was made in a sock or a chorreador de café or simply a chorreador, related to the verb, chorrear, which means “to drip” or “to trickle.” A chorreador – as a whole, rustic unit – is a cloth filter shaped like a sock and hung from a stand, and a cup or mug is placed under the filter. It’s simply a pour-over method of making coffee; hot water is leached through coffee grounds held in the cloth filter, and then coffee drips into the mug or container below. This is the way that coffee is traditionally made in Costa Rica.

Interestingly, the food in Costa Rica is nothing to write home about. However, there was a rich, abundant farmers market with excellent produce. We purchased what we needed there, and made our meals at home. Well, I can’t say that I contributed much, honestly. I usually just watched, talked and drank beer, most often an Imperial – a lager, and Costa Rica’s most popular beer. There were a couple great places that we ate at: a diner in the mountains on the way to the Pacific, and a ribs joint. The diner, La Casita del Café, sat at a high elevation between Atenas and the small town of San Mateo, and you could sit at a counter with an incredible view across the mountains all the way to the Pacific in the far, faded distance. We went to the ribs place on a rainy evening during the Festival de la Luz – The Festival of the Lights – they were broadcasting the San Jose parade on television. The place was very small, with a dirt floor, or maybe it was just a very dirty concrete floor. The ribs were served with yucas, a supplement for potatoes – also called “cassavas.” The meal was fantastic; we ate with the rain gently coming down on the metal roof, and with a scrappy, sickly little rat dog begging for nibbles at our feet.

We explored various places, including Desmonte, Playa Hermosa, and Montezuma – a “Bohemian” beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula that we reached by ferry. I remember feeling vibrant and free while there in Costa Rica, and that feeling remained with me for a short while after returning to Indiana. For a week or two, after arriving back in the States, I felt youthful, and a little rebellious. I hadn’t felt like that since high school. It was like I was ten years younger.

The law of the land in Costa Rica is Pura Vida. Pura Vida is a characteristic phrase or expression – often used as a greeting or farewell – that translates to “Pure Life” in English.

As I mentioned, visiting Costa Rica stirred something within me. That trip, I think, was the genesis of me leaving for California a year and a half later. I wanted pura vida. I wanted to augment my reality.

Instead, I was on a couch, only dreaming of more.

It’s not like I didn’t do anything notable while I was in California. I’ve somewhat misrepresented my time there. I went to Santa Monica, Venice, and Ventura. I visited a casting agency in Beverly Hills, participated in a script reading at a studio in Los Angeles, hiked in Towsley Canyon Park, attended a party, and networked my way into a face-to-face interview with a successful digital marketing agency. I also met some kind, generous, and encouraging people…and ate a lot of burritos.

Despite all that, though, ultimately, I think I was paralyzed by fear. Fear kept me on that couch, and fear led to me running, driving back across the States.

Fearfulness can lead to stagnation. Cowardice can put you in a rut.

Several months after I left, I noticed news reports of a Pacific storm that unloaded a deluge of torrential rain and severe wind on Southern California – causing floods, ravaging gusts of wind, mudslides, sinkholes swallowing cars, and evacuations. …and a part of me wished I was there, weathering the storm.

Vignette: Kaleidoscope of Color

On December 26th 2004, a massive earthquake shifted the earth, with an epicenter located just off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Presently, at the time of this writing (in early 2017), it is the third largest earthquake ever recorded since the invention of the seismograph. The only two larger earthquakes both occurred in the 1960s: one in Alaska in 1964, and the other in Chile in 1960. The earthquake generated a seismic ocean wave called a tsunami. In deep waters, waves of this type travel under the surface and can appear as nothing more than a small hump; and, in deep waters, the wave moves at a very high rate of speed, sometimes over 500 miles per hour. When it reaches shallow coastal waters it slows down tremendously but builds in height. Along some stretches of coastal land, the tsunami wave was 80 to 100 feet tall when approaching shore.

Catastrophic destruction devastated coastal communities around the Indian Ocean, and approximately a quarter-million lives were lost.

Five months later, in May 2005, I was in Thailand – in the Phang Nga province.

I traveled across the Pacific with a loose team of people to assist with continued humanitarian aid and ongoing relief work. A large portion of the people I traveled with were undergraduate students. I had just finished my freshman year of college. We initially landed in Taiwan, after an eleven-hour flight across the Pacific, and then took a connection flight from Taiwan to Bangkok.

From Bangkok, it was another nine to ten hour bus ride to where we stayed.

With it being twelve years ago, I am uncertain of where exactly in the Phang Nga province our mainland bungalow was located. After exchanging e-mails with a friend who was a part of the relief team twelve years ago, and looking over various maps and photographs, it seems likely that our lodging was near the Mu Ko Surin Pier, a port in Khura.

Over the next week to ten days, after breakfast, we walked down a dirt road – with motorbikes coming and going – to the pier. Numerous fishing boats were docked in the port, painted in various bright colors, filling the harbor with a kaleidoscope of reds, blues, oranges and greens. From the pier, we motored an hour through the Andaman Sea to the island of Ko Phra Thong in long-tail boats.

Long-tail boats are native to Southeast Asia, and found throughout the region, but the iconic style is distinctly Thai, with the boats commonly being referred to as “Thai Long-tails.” The motor – often times a removed, stripped down car engine – is positioned at the stern, within the boat, high and dry. The engine is mounted upon a turret that provides both vertical and horizontal movement. Swiveling up and down helps with avoiding rocks, coral, nets and debris; it also allows for running the engine on “neutral” – achieved when the propeller is levered completely out the water. The motor can be rotated horizontally 180 degrees, from port to starboard. The rustic boats get their name and distinct appearance due to the extended driveshaft, which is elongated with several meters of metal pole, and the propeller is directly attached to the tail end. Long-tails are structurally sound, tough little boats. Older long-tails, due to attentive maintenance over time, have had nearly every wooden part replaced – piece by piece, over the years – begging the ontological question: “Is it still the same boat?”

The island of Ko Phra Thong is home to a people known as the Mokens, a tribe of “sea gypsies.” They are a marginalized group of semi-nomadic, hunter-gatherers whose lifestyle is heavily based upon the sea. They inhabit islands along the west coast of Thailand, living in modest, minimalist huts that stand upon stilts – most of them at a height tall enough to walk under. Rising water can pass under their homes, flowing with little-to-no resistance. Mokens also live in small, thatched-roofed wooden boats called kabangs. They fish with simple tools, such as spears and nets, and can dive – remaining underwater – for six to eight minutes. The children take their first steps, not on land, but in water – they can swim before they can walk. Moken children have been observed to have over twice the visual acuity (or focus) under the sea as compared to the average person. When most people open their eyes under water, the iris expands or dilates, making the pupil larger, allowing for more light to enter – the world around is brightened but remains blurry. In contrast, the eyes of Moken children do the opposite: the iris closes, creating a very small pupil, dramatically increasing focus and clarity, providing rich detail.

The Mokens live in the moment – in tune with the surrounding natural world – and have no direct translations in their language for the English words “when” “want” “take” or “worry.” They are non-existent.

The Mokens received media attention following the 2004 tsunami, because of their miraculous survival. Through folklore, passed down for centuries, the Mokens escaped the deadly tsunami. The ancient myth of Laboon – the Giant Wave or “the wave that eats people” – states that before the wave comes, the sea is swallowed. Noting the great drawback of the ocean, they recalled the story of Laboon. Some Mokens claimed to have had strange dreams in the nights leading up to the tsunami – dreams of the sea turning blood red. Others asserted that a notable stillness and silence occurred before the wave, a quiet before the storm.

The cicadas that were normally loud, suddenly, and ominously, went silent.

Another culture that we encountered in Thailand, on the mainland, were Burmese – people from the neighboring country of Myanmar, located against the northwest border of Thailand. The country is also known as Burma. Today, it seems that both names are used depending on diplomatic considerations, due to governing conflict (the history of which I know very little about). I do know that the official name change occurred in 1989, from Burma to the Union of Myanmar, during a military revolution.

Burmese make up Thailand’s largest migrant population. There are approximately 1.5 million Burmese living in Thailand, which makes up about 70% of Myanmar’s total overseas population.

A Burmese family was living in a home near our lodging on the mainland. One morning before breakfast, a small group, including myself, was invited to their home where they applied Thanaka to our faces.

Thanaka is a yellowish-white, almost pale gold, cosmetic paste – indigenous to Myanmar – made from ground tree bark. The grounds are mixed with water to form a paste. Supposedly, the cream has been made and worn by the Burmese people for over 2,000 years. Women most commonly wear Thanaka, but it is also seen, to a lesser extent, on the faces of men and young boys. It is said that the cream has a myriad of health benefits, including protection from the sun – along with anti-bacterial, anti-aging and anti-oxidant qualities.

When we first arrived on the island of Ko Phra Thong, there was only one standing home left, under which we placed our backpacks and other carry-on supplies. There were two other homes under construction – started, I believe, by a previous relief group in the months prior to our arrival. Other than these structures, I don’t recall seeing any other homes or structures standing on the island. The island is very flat, and consequently experienced especially severe damage from the tsunami. Admittedly, I did not explore the entirety of the island – I didn’t have the opportunity to – but I did hike across it once, to the other side, finding remnants of a Buddhist shrine. Ko Phra Thong was, and is, home to others besides the Mokens. The Mokens, to my knowledge, have no religion aside from ancestor worship. However, approximately 93% of the population of Thailand is Buddhist. In the Thai language, the name Phra Thong means “Golden Buddha.” While Ko simply means “island.” (Ko is all over maps of the coastal regions of Thailand.) Ko Phra Thong essentially means “Golden Buddha Island” or “Island of the Golden Buddha.” According to legend, a valuable solid gold Buddha image was stolen by pirates and buried on the island hundreds of years ago. It was supposedly never found again, and still lays hidden.

I worked in a t-shirt, swim shorts and shoes, alongside locals who were accustomed to the heat but sought protection from the sun, wearing long sleeve shirts, pants, gloves, layers and desert hats. One stretch of coast was littered with debris, plastic, glass bottles and a child’s rag doll. Some of the group took on the daunting task of attempting to clean up the beach, collecting the refuse and remains.

The beaches were covered with little holes – thousands of them – about the size of a dime or smaller. If you stood still, and remained quiet, small fiddler crabs would creep out into the sunlight. If you remained still, hundreds (if not thousands) of little yellow and orange crabs would surround you. If you took a step, or made a move, the crabs would immediately scurry and duck back into their holes. You could be surrounded by a thousand crabs, and within a second, suddenly be alone. There are a hundred or more different species of fiddler crabs. These were small, only an inch or so across, and as mentioned: their colors were predominately shades of orange and yellow. The distinct quality of all fiddler crabs is their asymmetric claws. The male crabs have one claw that is much larger than the other, with the large one often being about the size of their body. The females have two small claws. This is called “sexual dimorphism,” where the two sexes of the same species exhibit differing characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. Mallard ducks, for example, have drastically different coloring in their feathers: the females are generally brown, while the males have the distinctly green head with a grey body.

I arrived in Thailand in 2005, a country in a juxtaposition of horrible devastation and vibrant beauty – a land with both the heights and lows of life together before my eyes…heaven and hell in the same picture.

Shortly before going to college, I started to experience chronic anxiety. It had such an influence upon me that by the time I traveled to Thailand I was largely in my head, detached from the moment-to-moment experience of life. I was, to some degree, in my own little world. Therefore, my memories of being in Thailand are a little foggy. Most of what I remember are disconnected snapshots.

I remember when we arrived in Bangkok – flying from one “City of Angels” to another – we stayed a night in the city. That night, the group I traveled with went out to experience the Bangkok (whose full ceremonial name includes the phrase “city of angels, great city of immortals”). They explored the lively and culturally abundant open markets, and tasted the renowned cuisine – some of the best culinary dishes offered to the world, balancing dissonance and harmony with their dynamic elements. However, I decided to stay in my hotel room, strangely wanting some time alone. I turned down a rare opportunity for a unique, rich experience. It didn’t make sense. I’m not one to turn down opportunities like that. I want adventure, and to experience life to the fullest. To describe me as a hedonist would be an exaggerated misrepresentation, I think, but I’m certainly in search of experience: out to taste and touch, and turn over stones.

There is a color that I associate with my memory of staying alone in that Bangkok hotel, and it’s grey.

For the remainder of the trip, I don’t recall behaving like that again, not to that extreme. However, I know that throughout the rest of my time in Thailand I was a little detached, because that’s how I was throughout college…and for several years after. The Mokens, who I was there to help and work alongside, were living in the present moment – in focused, detailed clarity – deeply in tune with the surrounding natural world.

Now, over a decade later, I want to go back to Thailand and give it the attention that it deserves. The word “redemption” has somehow become associated with this desire to go back. I want to redeem my experience of Thailand; I want to return there and repossess it.

Until then, I will just continue to order yellow curry with pork in some hole-in-the-wall gem, Stateside.